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Indian summer: Too hot to handle

The IMD said the highest monthly average maximum daytime temperature (29.54 degrees Celsius) was a 122-year-high, and the trend is a harbinger of warmer than normal summer in parts of India from March to May.

Indian summer: Too hot to handle
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The Indian Meteorological Department in its latest report said Chennai experienced its coolest February in about five years, even as the rest of the nation reported the hottest February since 1901. The IMD said the highest monthly average maximum daytime temperature (29.54 degrees Celsius) was a 122-year-high, and the trend is a harbinger of warmer than normal summer in parts of India from March to May.

In India, February is usually considered the spring season, where temperature hovers around the low 20s. However, this year, the average maximum temperatures were 1.73 degrees Celsius above normal; while minimum temperatures were 0.81 degrees Celsius above normal. As per forecast, parts of India, including the northeast, northwest, central and eastern regions will experience above normal temperatures. Heatwaves, exacerbated by climate change are also expected in many parts, barring regions like the northeast, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, coastal Karnataka and Kerala.

The national weather-related developments are in line with the international estimates. Scientists warn that a natural shift in the Pacific Ocean winds could elevate global temperatures higher this year, which could wreak havoc on weather patterns. A recent study estimated that the hot weather pattern El Nino has a 90% chance of making a comeback in 2023. Per experts, if the winds slow down over the Pacific Ocean, it could have a domino effect on global weather patterns. Droughts could decimate crops from Brazil to Indonesia, heat waves could ravage Europe, and even torrential rains could hit California.

This potential shift in weather is coming after almost three years of the cold weather pattern La Nina, which implies a cooler than usual temperature in the equatorial Pacific. Three in the last four years saw India experiencing above average rainfall, which was attributed to this weather phenomenon. There is the risk that if El Nino returns in 2023, the average global temperatures could go up by 1.5 degrees Celsius, which is the threshold agreed upon by world leaders to restrict global warming before the end of the century.

The spike could wipe out coral reefs by 70-90%. Even without the temperature hitting such precarious levels, India has borne the brunt of climate change in a big way. Deaths related to extreme weather phenomena like heat waves have risen by 55% in India. Such waves have precipitated a loss of 167.2 bn potential man hours. The temperature rise over many years has cut into India’s agricultural yield too. India’s yield of wheat in the 2021-22 crop season was reported to be 106.84 million tonnes. This is a sizable dip from the yield in the 2020-21 crop season which was 109.59 million tonnes.

Having prior data regarding a potential heatwave spell can be of immense value to stakeholders across the board — from city planners to farmers, and those involved in allied sectors. Farmers could be guided on adopting new crop variants with a quicker maturity period, as well be instructed on adjusting their water and soil management protocols. Local and State governments could put in place pre-emptive warnings and remedial measures for such adverse weather conditions, and incept solutions to protect the vulnerable. Public healthcare systems can also be made more responsive to the challenges thrown up by heatwaves, especially in under-served regions in rural India. Going forth, India will need a robust policy on dealing with the impact of such weather-led changes to its ecosystems and citizens.

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